221 of 235 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Startling Sermons
Charles Darwin said that there was grandeur in his view of life produced by natural selection, but it was not all a pretty picture. He wrote his friend Joseph Hooker in 1856: "What a book a Devil's Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature." Richard Dawkins has taken the quotation for the title of a collection of his...
Published on September 9, 2003 by R. Hardy
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice read
Nice read. Not as good as Dawkins other book THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, but still worth the read in all.
Published 5 months ago by eddie king
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221 of 235 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Startling Sermons,
Charles Darwin said that there was grandeur in his view of life produced by natural selection, but it was not all a pretty picture. He wrote his friend Joseph Hooker in 1856: "What a book a Devil's Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature." Richard Dawkins has taken the quotation for the title of a collection of his writings, A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love (Houghton Mifflin). Darwin also wrote of a particular wasp: "I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living body of caterpillars." But as Darwin (and Dawkins) would remind us, the evolutionary process has produced wonderfully designed creatures, and a wasp who cares for its young by letting them hatch within a hapless caterpillar is simply doing a competent job of getting the young off to a good start. It might be distasteful to us (and should have been to a supreme being), but nature just doesn't care. It isn't kindness of the mother wasp, or cruelty to the caterpillar, but simply amoral nature.
But as chaplain, Dawkins notes that while wasps and caterpillars can do nothing about such amorality, we can. "At the same time as I support Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs." There is no inconsistency here any more than in the physician who studies cancer, but is bent on eliminating it. And as devil's chaplain, Dawkins urges us to use our evolution-given brains, reject the pacifiers of faith in immortality, and rejoice in our short lives because they are all we have. Dawkins, you see, besides being an eminent Darwinian whose books like The Blind Watchmaker have wonderfully well laid out what evolution means, is also possibly the world's most famous atheist. You will find here his views on religious beliefs and creationists (or their newest incarnation as advocates of Intelligent Design), of course, but on "alternative medicine," crystal healing, homeopathy, and so on. Besides the rants, there is good humor and some warm tributes to friendship, especially in his memorials to his friends Douglas Adams and Stephen Jay Gould. The final chapter, "A Prayer for My Daughter," is a letter he wrote to her when she turned ten, to let her know how he thought she should select what to believe. The great question to ask in all disputes: "What kind of evidence is there for that?"
Readers will be reminded of the belligerence of Thomas Henry Huxley, "Darwin's Bulldog," but evolution is only one theme here. Included is his hilarious review of the book by the hoaxer Alan Sokal who submitted a nonsense paper to a postmodern journal and had it accepted. He rages against postmodernism, with its "all views are equal" stance making his scientific view equivalent to a voodoo view. He expresses his doubts about the jury system, and in a wonderful chapter ("Genes Aren't Us") discounts just how important genes are for personality. Another chapter makes us wonder at just how close we are to our ape cousins. Throughout, he is witty, and above all informative on a wide-range of subjects, not just on his refusal to accept what he sees as the diverse delusions of most of the world. Anyone who has admired his previous writings of science popularization will find these personal essays to be very appealing sermons from an accomplished chaplain.
109 of 118 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A revealing collection of essays by a passionate scientist,
One of the wonderful things about this book is the sense that one gets of a distinguished scientist letting his hair down, as it were, and discoursing informally on a number of interesting subjects including some outside his area of expertise. In the game of "Who would you invite to dinner if you could choose anybody?" Oxford University Professor Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, and other important works on evolution, would be near the top of my list.
Not that I agree with everything he says. Indeed, that is part of the fun. Dawkins is adamant on some subjects, religion being one of them. A goodly portion of this book is devoted to letting us know exactly how he feels about the "God hypothesis," "liberal agnostics," and the so-called miracles recognized by especially the Catholic Church. The title of Chapter 3.3, "The Great Convergence" (of science and religion), for example, is used ironically. He sees no convergence; in fact, he calls such a notion "a shallow, empty, hollow, spin-doctored sham." (p. 151)
Clearly Dawkins is not a man to mince words. But his insistence on a restrictive definition of "God" as "a hypothetical being who answers prayers; intervenes to save cancer patients...forgives sin," etc., is really the problem. He considers the "religion" attributed to scientists like Einstein, Carl Sagan, Paul Davies and others (and even himself!) to involve a misuse of the term, calling such a definition "flabbily elastic" and not religion as experienced by "the ordinary person in the pew." (p. 147)
But what Dawkins is really railing against is the illegitimacy of believing in the supernatural and science at the same time.
While I think Dawkins makes a good point with this argument, I think it would be better to make a distinction between fundamentalist religion, which has been, and continues to be, the root cause of much of the horror in the world, and the more progressive varieties which recognize the limitations of the barbaric "Bronze-Age God of Battles." See Chapter 3.5 "Time to Stand Up" in which Dawkins rightly condemns the hatreds and violent history of the three middle eastern religions. At the same time I think he needs to realize that it is legitimate to define "God" as God is defined in, for example, the Vedas; that is, as The Ineffable, which has no attributes, about which nothing can be said.
However it is exactly his point that there is no evidence for the God hypothesis and that to partially accept such a notion, or even to be "agnostic" is to depart from a purely scientific viewpoint. In this I think the atheistic Dawkins is mistaken. Absence of proof is not proof of absence, period. And as far as religion, per se, goes, I would add that not only is religion part of human culture (for better or for worse), but is also part of the so-called "extended phenotype" of human beings, and not something that is going to be argued away.
I also have some reservations about his reasons for not debating with creationists. He believes that to debate with them gives them a legitimacy they don't deserve. In Chapter 5.5, he reveals a letter he wrote to Steven Jay Gould expressing such a view. I don't debate creationists either, but my reason is that creationists don't really debate. They have already made up their minds and are not capable of being influenced by evidence. Theirs is purely an exercise in propaganda. Furthermore, as Dawkins discovered himself (in Chapter 2.3 on the Australian film crew that he allowed into his house for an interview), it is often the case that creationists don't play fair.
In Chapter 1.5 "Trial by Jury" Dawkins presents his reservations about "one of the most conspicuously bad good ideas anyone ever had." I understand his demurral, but would like to point out that juries dispense a social justice; that the tribe makes its decisions based on what it perceives as good for the tribe now, not necessarily what's true in an objective or scientific sense.
Interesting enough, Dawkins demonstrates his knowledge of other scientific subjects, including physics, and he does it very well. I was particularly impressed with his explanation of entropy and how it effects the evolutionary process in Chapter 2.2. (See especially page 85.) He also does a fine job of elucidating why Lamarckism cannot work without a "Darwinian underpinning" since there must be a mechanism for selecting between the acquired characteristics that are improvements and those that are not. (p. 90) Good too is his characterization of genes as constituting "a kind of description of the ancestral environments through which those genes have survived." (p. 113)
On his tiff with Gould, Dawkins attempts to make amends by reprinting some semi-gracious and mostly positive reviews of some of Gould's books; however it is obvious that his professional and emotional differences with Gould remain.
One of the most important points that Dawkins reaffirms here is his belief that we humans, because of our unique insight into ourselves and our predicament, "can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators." (p. 11) What Dawkins means is that we do not have to take biology as destiny or to take Darwinism as a template for our morality--a point often missed by his critics.
There is much, much more of interest in this refreshingly personal collection of essays by one of our most original evolutionary thinkers, some of it first rate, and some of it rather ordinary; yet taken in total reveals a lot about Richard Dawkins, scientist, science writer, teacher, and human being that I was pleased to learn.
Incidentally, the title is from Charles Darwin who speculated on how such a personage might regard "the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature." (p. 8)
That "devil's chaplain" here is Richard Dawkins himself who mostly directs his ire toward the stupidities of human beings.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Devils Chaplain,
Richard Dawkins is one of the most influential and controversial essayists of today. A renowned evolutionary biologist, he currently holds the Charles Simonyi Chair at Oxford University. In his book A Devils Champlain he brings together 25 years and some of his best and most polemic essays (some previously unpublished) with subjects dealing with everything from love to evolution.
He employs his analytical passion to raise some mind-blowing questions and does not back down from challenging what many people consider as fundamental truths. He analyzes very intricate topics and situations through a scientific lens and is able to do it with clarity and simplicity. Although he has been criticized for some strong anti-religions standpoints and instances were his bias affects his writing; I believe that his work, even if you don't agree with it, is worth reading for he definitely makes some very valid points.
I believe Richard Dawkins is one of the elite essayist because of his ability to take on such complex beliefs, brake it down systematically and with the use of some philosophy prove his point; all while keeping a clear and simple style. He displays mastery in several subjects including, but not restricted to physics, biology and philosophy.
This book is divided into seven sections, each with a preamble. These sections are themselves made up of short and varied articles enabling reader is also able to jump from section to section and read different pieces since the order is not overly central. This complemented by his concise style making for a very easy read.
This book is not only a great read but it could change the way you think about some of the most basic things in you're life and will force you to re-analyze several aspects of today's society. I trust that this book made me a more knowledgeable person and taught me to question everything, extending to the things society considers self evident.
My favorite article titled "Trial by Jury" scientifically analyzes the system of trial by jury. This is a system in which the vast majority of the world ardently believes in, and is regarded as the closest humanly possible method of reaching justice. Growing up in America I was a firm believer that it was the ultimate system but after having read the article, in which Dawkins makes some undeniable points against it, I have come to question this system. However, this is the same reaction I had to many of his other articles where he questions things such as truth, religion, and the existence of god.
It is definitely a great introduction to anyone that is interested in Richard Dawkins work. It is one of his more concise pieces in which he reaches concert solutions, and a great prologue to his more intricate and ideological works.
79 of 92 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A response to middle America,
I'd just like to briefly respond to the "reader from middle America" who I feel is over-reacting a little to Dawkins' book.
Dawkins' main target is not what I'd call 'traditional theists', but that group of what's usually labelled "fundamentalists" who are trying to suppress science teaching and replace it with their bogus "creation science".
I know plenty of intelligent people who believe in a God. I don't know any that believe in the literal "created in six days" word of the bible or who think a belief in evolution is absolutely antithetical to religious belief.
The majority of denominations - and thus Christians - don't subscribe to the fundamentalist view (don't take my word for it, do a quick search). In fact most explicitly disavow a literal reading of Genesis. So it's entirely wrong for "middle America" to speak of creationism as a "majority" belief.
Dawkins does take a fairly militant stance. Although I share his views, I initially felt he was being a bit hard on those he disagrees with. However when I read of people seeking to have creationism ranked as "science" in schools at the exclusion of real science I think he's right to get stuck into them.
Dawkin's target isn't "middle America" or the majority of believers for whom belief in God and science can coexist. His target is what we call in Australia "the loudmouth ratbag fringe" who want to foist their view on others. And he's got me on side.
Incidentally, his broadside at postmodernism is just as much fun to read as his views on 'creation science'.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love Letters to Science and Rationality,
This isn't merely a collection of essays from an esteemed old friend - it's a comprehensive review of the natural (and scientific) way of experiencing our world..."We already know that our senses are easily deceived...the lessons that conjurors, the honest variety and the imposters, teach us is that an uncritical faith in our own senses is not an infallible guide to truth." Here is the place for evidence, and eventually the scientific method. "Evolution gave us a brain whose size increased to the point where it became capable of understanding its own provenance, of deploring the moral implications and of fighting against them." Here is his advocacy of a system of ethics to deal with our evolved amoral tendencies. Some of the most beautiful prose I've ever read is the letter to his daughter, titled "Good and Bad Reasons For Believing." His take home message - show me the evidence. Elsewhere, he relates an interviewer pushing Carl Sagan for a premature answer. Asked, "But what is your gut feeling," Sagan replied, "I try not to think with my gut."
Dawkins visits several old friends. His writings involving S. J. Gould are GREAT fun to read!! Gould was a colorful character and colleague who Dawkins frequently sparred with publicly. Dawkins comments on some semi-resolutions, some non-resolutions, and some "this shouldn't have been an issue anyway" items, and is not to be missed.
For the hard-core computer geek, this is a gold mine: "The genetic code is truly digital, in exactly the same way as computer codes. This is not some vague analogy, it is the literal truth. Moreover, unlike computer codes, the genetic code, with a few minor exceptions, is identical in every living creature, from sulfur bacteria to giant redwood trees, from mushrooms to men...the present Luddism (fear of technology) over genetic engineering may die a natural death as the computer-illiterate generation is superseded."
For those who just prefer a light-hearted good time, turn to the chapter on postmodernism. Along with other morsels of gaity, Alan Sokal's hoax on the "cultural studies" area of postmodernism is presented. Sokal wondered if he could write a paper bad enough so that any college physics student would become hysterical with laughter, but good enough so that a leading postmodernist periodical would publish it. Unfortunately for the "Social Text," the answer was yes.
Now...ahem, about religion. Yes, Dawkins takes his patented "no prisoners" approach. "To describe religion as mind viruses is sometimes interpreted as contemptuous or hostile. It is both...as a lover of truth, I am suspicious of strongly held beliefs that are unsupported by evidence: fairies, unicorns, werewolves...the alleged convergence between (science and religion) is a shallow, empty, spin-doctored sham." There are 4 1/2 chapters with nothing but well-thought out comments on religion. Other phrases, lines and paragraphs of like thought are scattered throughout the book. Dawkins is one of the first authors I read who verbalized my own attitudes about religion. Since my early life was Baptist and I am still surrounded by conservative thinkers, these writings are like an oasis in the desert. Whatever one's belief, it seems to me the opposition should know what Dawkin's group is saying and why they're saying it.
I LOVED this book!!!
5 Enthusiastic Stars!!!
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darwin's Dangerous Disciple strikes again!,
To some, Richard Dawkins is threatening. His phrases pry open shut minds. His words bend and flex rigid thinking. His ideas trash dearly held dogmas. And, of course, he idolizes The Devil's Chaplain - Charles Darwin [the title is from a letter of Darwin's]. He performs all these feats with a graceful style - one which anyone writing science should study. This collection is comprised of letters, book reviews and even eulogies - an unusual vehicle for espousing the cause of rational thinking. If much of his writing seems intense, it's because he recognizes his role in waging an uphill battle against "established truths", no matter how false they prove. To show the validity of truth over myth requires a direct approach.
Dawkins recognizes that people abhor being called animals. The continuity of life, one of the major themes in this collection, remains an indisputable fact, he stresses. This series reinforces Dawkins' attempts to make us aware that we are part of Nature. He is always witty, using his sound scientific basis and rationale to keep us informed. Science, in his view, must not be eroded by baseless tradition nor false dogmas. The goal of living, he argues, is the understanding of life itself. Religion and philosophy have failed abysmally, the realm of science should be given its opportunity. It's a broad view, sustained by an ability to grasp it firmly. Better yet, for us, it's presented here with verve and dedication.
Segregated into [lucky!] seven sections, each addressing a general theme. He covers many topics in this anthology - evolution, of course, but medicine, genetically modified foods [many foods are hybrids resulting from genetic manipulation], jury trials, intellectual heresies, and even government policies are included. The arrangement presents no difficulty - in fact, each offering might be chosen at random without losing any impact. Selecting a favourite is an arduous task [although it promotes re-reading] but the review of Sokal and Bricmont's "Fashionable Nonsense" ranks very high. The review demonstrates Dawkins' many talents, from insight to incisiveness. Few essayists provide the imagery he can attain to explain an idea.
There are those, particularly adherents of the idea that science lacks morality, who see scientists as cold and distant. Dawkins shows how false this idea is with his laudatory comments on John Diamond, Douglas Adams and William Hamilton. He even extends an olive branch to his academic opponent, the late Stephen J. Gould. As fellow evolutionists, Dawkins and Gould forged a rapport against the rants and duplicities of the Christian creationists. It requires a broad mind to take such steps, and narrowness isn't among Dawkins' blemishes. He's a feeling human being and a tireless campaigner. We would all do well to heed and emulate him. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Ocean of Truth,
Isaac Newton described himself as a boy, playing on the seas shore, "whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." Charles Darwin explored the great ocean of genetic heritage from which all life has emerged. Dawkins explains the concepts of genetics and biological evolution to a nonprofessional audience, in terms and images that are clear and understandable even to those with no scientific training. I have saved this book and will give to my son to read when he studies biology in high school next year. Dawkins essays radiate intelligence and common sense, as well as a deep and passionate appreciation for the complexities of nature -- that is, for the truth that is exponentially more awe-inspiring, beautiful and fascinating than the nonsensical, repressive and, in may cases -- fear-inspired fantasies of the anti-science fundamentalists. Also, as a former academic who was amazed and repelled that any putative scholar could waste a moment of time on the hot air and charlatanism of deconstruction, I thoroughly enjoyed Dawkin's account of Sokal's hoax, in which a noted physics professor foisted an article that consisted of total gibberish on Social Text, a major post-modernist journal. The debate between Dawkins and Gould, so warmly and decently presented by Dawkins in these essays, provide a model of academic discourse that might well be replicated in the so-called humanities.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Start here!,
This review is from: A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love (Paperback)
If you don't know Dawkins yet and want to familiarize yourself with his opinions and attitudes, this is the best place to start. It is a broad collection of his usual subjects, treated here in shorter texts. You will meet a convinced neo-Darwinist, an aggressive atheist, a clear, witty and sometimes arrogant writer on mostly scientific issues, a lot of them leaking into general society matters, ethical questions, political assessments, and starting bases for anti-religious tirades (which are usually completely to the point and right). If you know him from his longer books, read this collection of essays anyway, it doesn't do any damage.
I found nothing really new in it (after reading the God Delusion, the Selfish Gene, the Blind Watchmaker, and Climbing Mount Improbable before), but I was happy to find this principal statement: he is a scientific Darwinist, but politically an anti-Darwinist. That needed to be clarified, although it should also be obvious (and although in this short version it looks like a slight on Darwin, which is not intended). He uses the good analogy of the medical researcher who as a scientist understands cancer, and as a practitioner fights it. Or in other words: things are not becoming right by wanting them to be so, or in reverse, they don't become wrong because you don't like them.
I can not follow him everywhere though. His comments on "speciecism", as an equivalent of racism, go too far for me. Maybe once the Jurassic Park Authority has reconstructed Lucy, I may change my mind on this, but I am not sure that I will live long enough to witness that.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In Defense of the Scientific Method,
If you only read one book by Professor Richard Dawkins, I recommend The Selfish Gene. That book is a remarkable tour de force covering the latest thinking about how evolution really works by taking into account our understanding of genetic qualities in reinforcing the evolutionary struggle of the survival of the fittest.
By contrast, A Devil's Chaplain is a book that will appeal primarily to people who have read several books by Professor Dawkins and would like to know more about him as a person and his views outside of neo-Darwinism.
If you have not read anything by Professor Dawkins, I recommend you skip this book unless you have a thorough understanding of the latest evolutionary theories. Much of the book won't make sense to you otherwise.
A Devil's Chaplain is a series of essays (some published before and some not), laments, eulogies and a letter to his daughter. From these materials, you can learn more about how Professor Dawkins sees his colleagues, those who oppose evolutionary teachings, postmodernists, and his personal views on religious beliefs and "alternative" medicine. Much of what he says will not surprise you. As a scientist, he favors the scientific method and is rationally skeptical of anything that cannot be proven by this method. He is also annoyed by a society that grants prominent opportunities to share views that are not proven by scientific methods. As a result, he is also an atheist . . . but one who draws great joy from considering the world around him and the methods by which it has been created.
Many people think of atheists as gloomy people, or people without much emotion. Professor Dawkins is neither. His loving descriptions of relations with his colleagues, rivals and mentors show just the opposite. His concern for using scientific methods is obviously also based on a desire to help people live better lives.
Catholics may find the book a little annoying in that Professor Dawkins likes to challenge some of the "faith"-based beliefs that that religion espouses.
As I finished the book, I found that I was most attracted to the advanced speculations that Professor Dawkins used in his book that speak directly to evolutionary studies. I especially recommend the essay, "Son of Moore's Law," where he describes the timing of when individual genomes will be economically affordable and how that will influence health and medical treatments. I was also drawn to the essays that describe his optimistic belief that we can escape our evolutionary heritage and evolve into people who produce the best possible future for all.
There's much food for thought here. I doubt if any religious believers will be undone by his arguments. I also doubt that he will convert any people who believe in the literal creation as described in the Bible to change their views.
Ultimately, I was left wondering how other prominent scientists bridge the gap between their scientific methods and having a rich religious life.
I graded the book down one star because the editor presumes the reader has a little too much familiarity with the leading lines of thought about evolution. The book could have used more footnotes to explain the background of the points Professor Dawkins is making for those of us who are not evolutionary biologists . . . but simply like to read books about the subject.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A MANUAL TO THE TRUTH REVEALED BY SCIENCE,
Dawkins is a well known biologist whose "The Selfish Gene" revolutionized the way we think (or ought to think) about evolution.
In this book, he puts together a collection of essays which, in the essence, is a guidebook to non-scientists to debunking pseudo-science. He does so in a variety of ways:
1. He demonstrates how complex physics concepts are used in literature to seem more scientific.
2. He shows how creationists seek legitimacy in the public eye with scientific sounding ideas like "intelligent design" and others which are nothing more than pseudo-science. He also offers ideas on how to deal with them.
3. He points out, in an open letter to his daughter, how to know what is truth and what isn't, what are good and bad reasons to believe something.
4. He recommends a number of follow up readings in his book reviews. These are mainly on Stephen Jay Gould and Peter Medawar, two other famed biologists who write for the general public.
The essence of the book is reflected, I believe, in the last essay, in which he makes the point that evidence is the only way to truth and knowledge, and the basis of science. He shows that evidence is a better reason to believe something than its three foes: authority, revelation and tradition.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for intelligent arguments and thoughts on a wide variety of subjects, all related to science, its importance and its usage (or lack thereof) in society.
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A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love by Richard Dawkins (Paperback - October 27, 2004)